Is Arnold Schwarzenegger The Ultimate Fitness Influencer?

While keen bodybuilding fans may have something to say about Arnold’s status as the greatest iron-pumper of all time, there’s no doubt that for casual observers, Schwarzenegger is by far and away the most infamous bodybuilder walking the Earth.

The impact The Austrian Oak has made on the entire fitness world is not to be underestimated. Would it be an overreach to crown Arnie the greatest fitness influencer of all time?

In celebration of Arnie gracing the front cover of MH once again, we dug up a rare TV appearance of a young Arnold not just flexing his biceps, but dropping knowledge bombs on how beginners can build their own. The short segment titled, “Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Bodybuilding Beginner Exercises”, sounds exactly like the sort of post you’d expect to find on your Instagram explore page in 2023. But does the advice differ? Our fitness editor takes a look…

Arnie on…the bench Press

Arnold kicks off with the bench press, because, well, of course he does. A key thing to keep in mind here is that while young men in the 21st century are born with a genetically imprinted fascination with ‘benching’, this was a relatively new movement to the general population back then. You are literally watching history in the making as Arnold prioritises the bench press over all other movements, on national television. It’s enough to make a gym-bro weep.

barbell bench press

Schwarzenegger’s suggestion of a light warm-up, leading into a total of 5 sets of 10 reps may not be the most technical protocol in the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Are there more ‘optimal’ movements and rep schemes for pumping up your pecs? Sure. Simply switching the barbell for dumbbells would be a good start. Even Arnold notes that the movement can be performed in a variety of different ways, seemingly acknowledging that the ‘movement pattern‘ itself is far more important than what type of kit you use.

With all that being said, many a barrel chest has been built this way in the past, and long may it continue. All hail the bench press.

Arnie on…barbell back squats

It would be an easy cop-out to simply focus on showcasing the big, sexy, upper-body building movements when you’re pressed for time. And on the ‘gram in today’s age, ‘the algorithm would certainly reward you for doing so. But Arnold is obviously a man of integrity, so he dives straight into the daddy of lower body lifts next, the squat.

Arnie advising that we take each rep ‘below parallel’ shows form matters to him. And while Schwarzenegger himself is no stranger to breaking this very rule, if you’re a beginner, nailing textbook technique (as it pertains to your body) can be incredibly important.

arnold schwarzenegger cheat curls

Arnold breaks all the rules on ’good form’ with heavy ’cheat curls’.

Arnold Schwarzenegger//YouTube

The barbell back squat, however, is not the best version of the squat to learn if you’re starting out. And if you’re suffering from restricted mobility in the hips and legs, it’s a challenging movement to perform. If this sounds like you, a better starting point may be learning to simply squat to a bench with your bodyweight, raising your heels with a plate if necessary, before moving into goblet squats, followed by front squats and eventually graduating up to the heavy hitting back squat Arnold espouses here.

air squat no lockout
goblet squat
dumbbell front squat
barbell back squat

Going beyond simply pumping up those pins, Arnold makes the solid point that athletes from ‘skiers, to hockey players, to soccer players’, could stand to benefit from incorporating weighted squats into their regime, proving that his coaching expertise transcends the bodybuilding world.

Arnie on…dumbbell curls

Now, if you were to ask me to name three beginner friendly movements for the weights-room, I would be tempted to include an upper-body ‘pushing’ movement, such as the bench press; a big lower body lift, such at the squat; and for balance, an upper-body ‘pulling’ movement, which the dumbbell curl technically is. However, it may be a little too specific and not quite deliver the same ‘bang-for-your-buck’ as the previous two movements. That being said, we may just have stumbled upon one of (the many) reasons Schwarzenegger sports significantly bigger guns than me.

A better solution for beginners who are interested in more than just beefing up their biceps would probably be to master the pull-up, or incorporate some variation of the ‘dumbbell row’ into their regime.

chest supported dumbbell row
weights, exercise equipment, shoulder, overhead press, kettlebell, arm, dumbbell, physical fitness, standing, muscle,

Schwarzenegger’s tips on how to perform curls, though, are absolutely faultless, advising that we approach each rep “always very slow, and concentrate on the muscle you’re training”. This focussed ‘mind/muscle connection’ being perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of training for muscle gain, and something that Arnold is still keen to promote.

Arnie goes on to add that the biceps have two jobs to do: lift the forearm, and turn the wrist”. Arnie is no slouch when it comes to understanding anatomy and physiology, which is perhaps more than can be said for many modern day fitness influencers. Impressive.

Good Advice, Bad Advice, Dangerous Advice.

It pains us to write this, it really does. But it’s comforting to know that even the very best can get it wrong from time to time.

Reviewing footage from the then new, and now legendary documentary film ‘Pumping Iron’, Arnold does offer up some seriously dubious advice: “What you see right now, it’s just training that is done before competition which is a very strenuous type of training that we go through. It’s two hours in the morning and around two hours at night.

Now clearly, Arnold is no longer talking to beginners, but with what we know today, it’s hard to imagine even professional bodybuilders bragging about such high volume training sessions. Especially on the run-up to a competition, where calories may be restricted and recovery hampered. It’s hard to tell how much of this is hype for the film itself, and he may be including low intensity calorie-burning cardio efforts in this estimation, but still, this is the exact type of ‘questionable’ advice that we’d immediately jump on the average Instagram influencer for. Sorry, Arnie. We have to keep it consistent.

Arnie has made some other claims, too. Most notably how he expects him and his muscles-up cohort to ‘gain around 20lbs of muscle size around three months before a competition’. We have to disagree with him here. Those types of gains are only really possible by absolute beginners – and those that dabble in the anabolic dark arts. Which admittedly, does include Arnold.

Blemishes on his record aside, Arnie also offers some incredible words of motivation and even touches on body-positivity and acceptance. “First of all, I have to compliment you on your physical development, because you look very athletic, so don’t put yourself down,” he says to the presenter. He’s then asked if it’s essential to have someone help you in the gym. Arnie’s reply is perfect: ‘You get into the habit of helping yourself.’ A throwaway line, perhaps, but one that shouldn’t be ignored – stick that caption over the right image, and you can only imagine how many likes it would get in today’s world.

los angeles august 26 arnold schwarzenegger, host of a upn television special, arnold's rock 'n' roll bodybuilding championship originally broadcast august 26, 1998 photo by cbs via getty images

CBS Photo Archive//Getty Images

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Uber-Influencer?

In light of the evidence above, as well as Schwarzenegger’s unrivalled track record for conquering every goal he has ever set his mind to, it’s hard to envisage Arnold not being the undisputed king of social media fitness, had it existed in his iron-pumping heyday.

What’s even more difficult to envisage is the current world of physical culture looking anything like it does today, in the absence of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

According to stats, the global fitness industry is worth an estimated $96.7 billion, and it’s safe to say that Arnie’s iconic physique, paired with his undeniable charisma and incomparable drive for success, are to thank for a large slice of that pie.

Ladies and Gentleman, we bow before the fitness influencer’s greatest influence: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The new issue of Men’s Health is out now.

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